Agriculture and Human Values

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 243–254 | Cite as

Hiding hunger: food insecurity in middle America

  • Lydia Zepeda


This is a community based research project using a case study of 20 people living in middle America who are food insecure, but do not use food pantries. The participants’ rate of actual hunger is twice that of food insecure community members who use food pantries. Since most of the participants are not poor, the Asset Vulnerability Framework (AVF) is used to classify causes of food insecurity. The purpose of the study is to identify why participants are food insecure and why they do not use food pantries. Findings reveal that the participants restrict the quality and quantity of food eaten as a strategy to manage their budget. Following AVF, this strategy allows them to offset lower returns to labor assets, cover rising costs of human capital investment, protect their two most important productive assets of housing and transportation, and compensate for household relationships that increase their vulnerability. In addition, food insecurity itself inhibited social capital formation, further increasing vulnerability. The main reasons the participants do not use food pantries is to protect their social capital assets: almost all of the participants hid their hunger from colleagues, friends, relatives, and even the people they lived with. The participants described fear of societal shaming and blaming as motivations for hiding their hunger. However, using food pantries could reduce their food insecurity. Therefore, there was a feedback loop between food insecurity and social capital: food insecurity reduced social capital and efforts to protect social capital prevented participants from improving food security by using food pantries.


Asset Vulnerability Framework Community based research Poverty shaming 



Asset Vulnerability Framework


Economic Research Service


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program


United States Department of Agriculture



Many thanks to Gina Wilson of Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin for asking me to do this study and to Second Harvest for funding transcription and participant payments. I extend my gratitude to Kathryn Carroll for helping with recruitment of participants and to Anna Reznickova for conducting four of the interviews. I am extremely grateful to the participants of this study for sharing their stories.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Consumer ScienceUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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